The departure of Cam Wallace leaves a big hole at the top of Air New Zealand.
The popular chief commercial and customer officer leaves the airline as it faces a long recovery - which chief executive Greg Foran ominously picks as L-shaped.
For the foreseeable future it will be a domestic carrier with an international freight business.
Wallace, a strong contender for the top job last year and loaded with institutional knowledge of Air NZ, sees better prospects elsewhere.
And even in an airline industry battered by Covid-19 and shedding high-level staff, top talent will still be in demand.
In his 19 years at Air New Zealand, Wallace has built up strong connections throughout the industry, particularly with alliance partner United Airlines and transtasman rival Qantas, where he gets on well with chief executive Alan Joyce.
Overseas airlines will restore international operations faster than Air New Zealand; in a case of one step forward then another step sideways, they already are. Assuming Wallace does stay in the airline business that's the lure for the high-energy 49-year-old - and will the Air NZ board pause for thought.
"I resigned today so that I can focus the next stage of my career on opportunities that allow me to work on the global stage where I deeply enjoy the challenges across geographies, cultures and economies," Wallace says, adding that he's been fortunate enough to have been recently presented "with some professional opportunities".
Last month he told the Herald about the need for confidence at Air NZ.
"We've talked a lot about compassion as we've gone through this change; we've talked a lot about resilience; but we've also been trying to pivot to this thing called confidence."
I will be stepping away from @FlyAirNZ at the end of the month. I will miss the special people that work at this innovative airline. The business is well set up for the future. I will be cheering from the sidelines! @andykirton pic.twitter.com/7oio4DU8Ov— Cam Wallace (@CamWallace_NZ) September 2, 2020
Wallace was thrust into the spotlight this year amid the airline's rearguard attempt to assuage anger over mishandled credit and refunds problems and has been a trouper on Twitter, updating Air NZ watchers on the company's operations.
Today he took to the platform again with a well-received post. The cricket nut posted a Photoshopped picture of staff past and present in cricket gear - labelled the "captains of the third eleven."
Friction at the helm
When any new chief executive comes in, the existing executive team invariably faces a shakeup. At Air New Zealand this has happened on steroids. Foran, an airline outsider from the cut-throat US retail scene as head of Walmart, was looking forward to getting his head around the business in a 100-day review and then mapping out a plan.
In wretched bad luck, he started as Covid-19 was beginning to be felt throughout Air NZ's operations and quickly escalated into the worst commercial crisis to ever hit the airline industry.
This full-blown health and economic emergency exacerbated inevitable stress around having a new boss on the top floor of Air NZ's Fanshawe St headquarters.
It has been especially tense recently and the airline's board has been taking a particular interest in what is happening within the executive.
In May Foran announced the exit of three top executives - Nick Judd, John Whittaker and Mike Tod - who did some advisory work for the airline. Among them they had 68 years' experience. Add Wallace's tenure and that loss is closing in on a century.
One airline industry insider said Judd and Wallace were renowned internationally for best practice airline alliance and relationship building. The strong alliance with United allowed Air New Zealand to successfully strike deep into the US and the improved relationship with Qantas eased tension on the Tasman.
"It's a big brains trust that is exiting," the insider says.
In the post-Covid world, alliances will become incredibly important for survivors in the inevitable airline shakeup.
Of the executive a year ago, just chief financial officer Jeff McDowall, chief operational integrity and safety officer safety David Morgan and chief operating officer Carrie Hurihanganui remain. Chief digital officer Jennifer Sepull, who arrived last year, is set to see her role get bigger as the airline will likely increase its direct-to-the-consumer digital push in search of savings wherever it can find them.
Industry daily news service Travel Today points out that Wallace was not only well-known and respected by those in the trade, but he also understood the value of the travel agency distribution.
"Just what impact his departure will have on the relationship between the national carrier and the trade remains to be seen."
Foran will take on Wallace's commercial and customer function, which will give him further insight into the business - and provide him the opportunity to assess more international talent as other airline executives find themselves in search of new jobs.